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Issue #1540      21 March 2012

NITV backs SBS model

The board of National Indigenous Television (NITV) has agreed in principle to a model proposed by ethnic broadcaster SBS for NITV’s transition to a national Indigenous free-to-air TV channel later this year.

The proposal, fleshing out operational, production and transmission issues, has reinvigorated talks that began between the two entities following a federal government directive last August.

NITV’s current annual funding of $15.2 million a year cuts out at the end of June, but it’s understood that NITV’s programs will continue to “play-out” on Foxtel and Austar until the transition to a spare SBS-owned channel is complete.

On February 22, the Koori Mail newspaper (see Guardian March 7) reported the NITV board’s frustration at what it perceived as unnecessary delays in SBS responding to NITV’s core concerns around Indigenous control of such a channel, ongoing “ring-fenced” funding, and continuity for NITV staff.

The board was also annoyed not to have been able to secure a meeting with federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy – a meeting that still hasn’t happened, some five weeks after it was sought.

Despite that, NITV chairman Ken Reys says things progressed two weeks ago with the Indigenous board meeting and agreeing in principle to points raised by SBS around transfer of NITV’s brand and assets, integrity of content, licences and so on.

But he told the Koori Mail the board was retaining its right to negotiate around its ongoing concerns. “We’re still looking at some issues, getting the I’s dotted and T’s crossed,” he said.

Mr Reys said SBS had agreed to an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person joining its board and to the integration of NITV’s Indigenous editorial policies into the broader SBS policy framework, but he conceded these measures fell short of true Indigenous control.

“It doesn’t equate to that, in lots of ways, and I’m not sure we’ll ever get a guarantee on that,” he said. 

“We’ll get representation at the board level and we’ll have an advisory committee. And an Indigenous person will head the channel – they’ll make decisions on what programs are produced and otherwise obtained for the channel – but they’ll report up the line through the head of content and into the management of the SBS.

“Statements have also been made that SBS will take as many of our staff as they can, but we want some stronger assurances around that too.”

Mr Reys said one of Senator Conroy’s advisers attended last week’s NITV board meeting and raised the possibility that community television could also one day end up within SBS.

“We don’t think the government is going that way but it certainly raised eyebrows. The Minister stated in August last year that this channel would remain a dedicated Indigenous channel,” he said. “We don’t want NITV boxed in with community television and we’ll be putting that to the Minister.

“We need to not disrespect SBS and their role and responsibilities as the broadcaster, but also to ensure that they’ll give this dedicated channel every ounce of respect and dignity it should have for us as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“We realise we’re not in control of this process from July 1 (but) we definitely don’t want to be just subsumed into SBS. We’re Indigenous Australians. Don’t tag us as multicultural, we’re quite distinct. If harmony can be struck on that, I believe we’ll grow stronger and stronger.”

An approach to Senator Conroy’s office on the negotiations between NITV and SBS continued to go unanswered.

Koori Mail  

Next article – Arguments over climate change

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